Intermet Corporation has incorporated a new laser scanning capability at its Columbus Foundry in Columbus, Ga. The new technology allows it to quickly make a highly accurate digital model of a physical component, improving everything from the speed of a production ramp- up to the efficiency of quality checks.
Intermet's customers also benefit from an improved ability to troubleshoot design problems, plus create precision digital records of prototypes and actual parts they can refer back to many times, and for as long as they save the data.
Laser scanning supports two all-important Intermet goals: to provide industry-leading service to customers and to assure the dimensional accuracy of every casting it produces.
"From the customer's standpoint, this reduces the lead time to provide them with a casting," said Art Clark, technical director, Columbus Foundry, Intermet Corp. "It's also an invaluable tool improving our ability to monitor production and provide fast, accurate data to our customers."
The laser scanner is a hardware and software tool that uses a laser beam to capture the dimensions of an object. It consists of an articulated, mechanical arm with a device emitting a laser beam at one end. It moves around the component, scanning it in its entirety.
The approach greatly improves upon a device known as a coordinate measurement machine, or CMM. That device operates more slowly than the laser scanner and requires extensive programming. It also measures only one area of an object at a time. Once anchored to a tabletop magnetically or with a vacuum connection, Intermet's laser scanner is ready to take a fast, three- dimensional snapshot record of any component, capturing thousands of data reference points per second.
"Customers want us to make sure their part is dimensionally sound," said Clark. "The old method was to take the part and then spend a lot of time programming the coordinate measuring machine. And you were only as good as your program. It would only measure where you told it to measure."
The laser scanner, on the other hand, covers the whole object, makes millions of measurements and reproduces a "point cloud" on a computer screen. "Not only do you get more points, but you acquire them much more quickly," Clark said.
It's possible to scan a part in as little as 30 to 40 minutes. That reduces the time for the advance dimensional work on a new casting from two weeks to a couple of days. When necessary, a scanning image of a new part can be delivered back to the customer just hours after its model arrives at Intermet.
Customers also benefit from the lower cost of the process. Laser scanning doesn't require the hours of programming that the older method needed for each measurement.
"You can take an employee, provide a very short training period, and start doing laser scans, said Clark."
Intermet has been using the laser scanning technology for nearly a year and a half. According to Steve McCall, quality engineering manager, Columbus Foundry, Intermet Corp.; company engineers continue to discover new applications for it.
"It's been a pleasant surprise as we've worked with the technology and learned to apply it for different outcomes and in ways we hadn't anticipated," he said.
Intermet's scanning capability facilitates a number of operations, ranging from rapid prototyping to 3-D modeling. It can determine the dimensions of a machined part so it can become the model for the future production or the subject of engineering analysis. With the wealth of data that it provides, Intermet can flesh out details that may be missing from a component's blueprint. Those details can be communicated back to the customer for future reference.
It also makes it possible to overlay a production part onto a reference part to see how closely it corresponds. Different colors designate the portions of the part where there may be discrepancies. Similarly, the digital "point cloud" can be compared to CAD designs to check production accuracy.
"This investment in technology has provided us with everything we hoped for and more," said Clark. "It has dramatically upgraded the service we provide while cutting our response time to our customers."